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Offender Management and Treatment - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:36 pm on 3rd October 2019.

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Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 3:36 pm, 3rd October 2019

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for securing this debate. Many experts in this field have contributed to the debate, and I assure noble Lords that I will draw it to the attention of the relevant Minister.

Improving the management and treatment of offenders is a priority for the Government. The criminal justice system must become more effective at rehabilitating offenders—a point made by many noble Lords—so that they do not go on to commit more crime and to create more victims of crime. Punishment and rehabilitation are not opposites; we have to do both.

We are working to reform and improve provision across both prison and the community. There are real challenges for our system, but by investing in our prisons, strengthening our probation system and taking a whole-system approach to criminal justice, we can provide the right support for offenders and set them on a path towards rehabilitation.

As noble Lords have commented, the Prime Minister has recently announced more resources for the criminal justice system: 20,000 more police on our streets; 10,000 more prison places; £100 million for prison security; and an extra £85 million for the Crown Prosecution Service. Noble Lords will therefore appreciate that we take the management and treatment of offenders extremely seriously.

I hope to address most of the important points that noble Lords have raised during the course of the debate. If I do not cover them, I promise to write and place copies in the Library.

Noble Lords will have seen that we recently published our response to last summer’s consultation on the future of probation services, Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence. That response sets out our plans to build on the positive changes introduced by Transforming Rehabilitation while addressing the key challenges in the system. To deliver these arrangements, we are ending community rehabilitation company contracts early in 2021 and streamlining responsibilities for public, private and voluntary sector partners. Once these arrangements are in place, I am confident that we will improve the supervision and treatment of offenders from first contact with probation to last.

We are planning to bring all offender supervision under one organisation, moving away from the current division of offenders between the National Probation Service and community rehabilitation companies. This will allow probation officers to be even more effective at protecting the public, because we will see more efficient allocation of resources, more effective enforcement of orders and closer supervision of offenders.

Most noble Lords mentioned rehabilitation. We will improve the range and quality of rehabilitative interventions so these can better target the needs of offenders, including vulnerable offenders and those with mental health and alcohol and substance abuse problems. We intend to commission a significant percentage of these services through a dynamic framework, which will enable us to engage directly with smaller providers including those from the voluntary and community sectors who can often provide a more tailored and locally responsive approach.

Offenders also have contact with the probation service in the weeks leading up to and following their release from prison. We recognise the enormous importance of effective resettlement services in reducing reoffending. Offenders can currently expect contact from probation services 12 weeks before release, but this will increase to seven or eight months before release under the new model, giving much more time for resettlement plans to be made. We will align arrangements, with new resources being assigned to the supervision of offenders in custody to ensure a safe and planned transition from custody to community.

As part of work across government to tackle rough sleeping, something which was mentioned by many noble Lords, we are investing £6.4 million in a pilot scheme to support individuals released from three prisons. Working with the voluntary sector, the pilots—as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Bichard and Lord Dholakia—will support low-risk male prisoners to access and sustain tenancies in private rented accommodation. Individuals will receive wraparound support and we will evaluate the pilots to inform plans for further rollout.

To manage and treat offenders effectively, we also need to ensure our prisons are fundamentally safe and secure. That means preventing items from entering our estate which undermine safety, security and rehabilitation, including drugs, mobile phones and other contraband.

The noble Lord, Lord Beith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, also mentioned safety and security as well as overcrowding. Reducing overcrowding is a top priority. There will be £2.5 billion of spending on 10,000 new places and an extensive refurbishment has been commissioned on decommissioned prison places. A further £100 million will be spent on security, with airport-style X-ray scanners, for example, and metal detectors at the gates. In August, the Prime Minister announced a £100 million investment in prison security as part of a wider crackdown on crime behind bars. This is the latest in a series of investments to increase security and stability in prisons, including a prior announcement of £70 million.

Alongside improvements to security, we are working to ensure that our prisons have sufficient capacity. As I mentioned, over the summer the Prime Minister announced that up to £2.5 billion will be spent on creating 10,000 additional places. Our ambition is to create a decent, safe and secure estate that is sustainable into the future and provides better opportunities to reform offenders.

Being able to safely and securely hold those sentenced to custody must be the first thing we get right in prisons, but we must also provide the right support and incentives to rehabilitate offenders, as a number of noble Lords mentioned. Our prison officers play a vital role in supporting and challenging offenders to make the right choices. We have recruited more than 4,700 prison officers since October 2016, surpassing our original target of 2,500 and returning us to approximately the same level as in March 2012. This has enabled us to improve our support and case management of prisoners, with the introduction of the new offender management in custody model to all male closed prisons. Each individual will be allocated a prison officer to act as their key worker, who will guide, support and coach individuals through their custodial sentence.

A number of noble Lords mentioned women in prison. We have developed a bespoke management approach for women which recognises the different challenges and opportunities in the women’s estate. The women’s policy framework mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, was published in 2018. It includes requirements to support women to find housing, manage money and access education. We recognise that women’s needs are different, and I commit to writing to the noble Baroness to give further details on the issues she raised.

As I mentioned, we are working to ensure that prison offers meaningful opportunities for rehabilitation. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the noble Lords, Lord Marks, Lord Beecham, Lord Beith and Lord Jay, all mentioned this issue. This year, we marked the first anniversary of the Education and Employment Strategy, which will ensure prison is a place where offenders can develop the skills they need to secure employment on release. We know that employment is one of the key factors that will determine whether they reoffend.

We are very thankful for my noble friend Lord Farmer’s report on the importance of family engagement to reduce reoffending. We are also grateful for his second report, which focused on female offenders, and we are currently considering its recommendations.

Moving on to youth justice—mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who has extensive experience in this area—alongside the reforms to the adult custodial estate, we are committed to improving the safety and life chances of children in custody. This is the reason why we began a youth justice reform programme in 2017, investing in staff, education and, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, psychological services as well. It is so important to get these things right for these young people.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised the subject of sport in prison, and I thank him for doing so. We have increased the number of PE staff: there are 40 football clubs delivering coaching qualifications, and 15% of prisons participate in parkrun.

The Youth Custody Service has started implementing a new evidence-based behaviour management strategy, aimed at incentivising good behaviour and building positive relationships. To tackle the root causes of youth offending, we have introduced the first of our youth justice specialists in custody. We are also expending front-line staff capacity in public sector youth offender institutions. At the end of March this year, the Youth Custody Service had 348 more front-line officers than at the start of our reform programme, an increase of 40%. In July, we were delighted to announce that the Oasis Charitable Trust has been selected to operate the first secure school in Medway, which will open in 2020.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, both mentioned in their speeches—it was a major point of the noble Lord’s speech—the subject of an external review. It is a valuable point, but the whole system is under review. We are making changes to probation services and investing in prisons. We have commissioned experts to review areas, such as my noble friend Lord Farmer’s review on family ties.

The noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Beecham, also mentioned the fact that probation should be localised. Our probation reforms will create 12 new regional probation directors to ensure that services reflect local needs and use local providers and that probation works more closely with police, courts and prisons.

A number of noble Lords mentioned issues relating to mental health and violence in prisons and the unacceptable levels of violence and self-harm. Staff are now undergoing revised training on suicide and self-harm. This is a move in the right direction and, hopefully, will have an effect in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and other noble Lords mentioned the subject of universal credit and what exactly prisoners can access. Offenders can access a DWP work coach prior to their release. We will continue to work with the Department for Work and Pensions on this issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Jay, talked about education and employment. I can tell the noble Lord that additional powers have been devolved to governors to give them more control over their education budget so that they can target areas where required.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester asked about funding for women’s centres in the new probation system. We are determined to ensure that the probation service does meet the needs of women. Women’s centres are a non-negotiable part of the answer. The right reverend Prelate also mentioned the concordat, which we are looking to publish in the next few months. As far as housing and homelessness for women is concerned, this is subject to evaluation but our homelessness pilot will be rolled out and can be delivered for any offender, including women.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, mentioned IPPs, which have been covered numerous times in this House over recent years. Public protection must remain our priority. At the moment, there are no plans to change the release test or recall system, as it is applied to IPP prisoners.

The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, also spoke about levels of violence in prisons. Violence levels are too high, and violence against staff will not be tolerated. The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act increases the penalty to 12 months; prison officers are included as emergency workers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, also mentioned sentencing. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has announced an urgent review to break the reoffending cycle. We have announced our intention to carry out legislative reform, including reforms to community penalties, which will offer the appropriate level of punishment while tackling the underlying causes of reoffending.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about disability awareness training for staff. This is an important point, and I can reassure the noble Baroness that all officers receive broad equalities training over a number of different modules.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, also spoke about how the voluntary sector can help. We want to see a clearer role for voluntary providers in probation delivery. The National Probation Service will in the future be able to directly commission services which encourage participation of smaller suppliers and, as I mentioned before, address the needs of local areas.

I close by thanking again the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and all those who have raised important issues in this debate. Getting the supervision and treatment of offenders right is absolutely vital, both for their benefit and to prevent reoffending leading to further victims. Taken together, the measures I have outlined will ensure that we are best supporting offenders to turn their lives around, whether that is in prison, youth custody or the community.